Can Employers Mandate COVID-19 Vaccines?
January 22, 2021
by Cat Sandoval
Can employers mandate that their employees get the Coronavirus vaccine?
“The answer is yes, employers can require employees to get the vaccine once it’s available,” says Richard Roth, labor attorney. But there are exceptions which include religious beliefs or disability-based objections.
“If an employee says I am not taking the vaccine and an employer requires that, they can terminate that employee,” says Roth. “Remember, you can terminate an employee for any reason whatsoever except for what I refer to as a statutorily protected rights. But if you say I don’t want to take the vaccine because I don’t want to, they can fire you. If you say I can’t because of some disability, then there could be some kind of a claim.”
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers could legally require the COVID-19 vaccine for workers, but they must also be prepared to provide “reasonable accommodations” for employees who don’t get the shot for medical or religious reasons.
“I don’t think that this is the moment to even discuss whether or not a vaccination should be mandated for anybody. I think we are in a country right now with deep distrust on everything,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Weingarten is the president of one of the largest teacher’s labor unions. And while some states are vaccinating teachers, she doesn’t think mandating it is the way to go; she’d prefer vaccine education.
“Ultimately, that distrust about vaccinations for Black and Brown communities comes because of a terrible history of prejudice and discrimination and being used for experiments,” says Weingarten, “and what we need to do is we need to earn their trust.”
A majority of employers, including hospitals, are encouraging but not mandating COVID vaccinations. The country’s second largest employer, Amazon, tells Newsy it’s not requiring it for its 800,000+ employees, but is encouraging the shots.
Dollar General, which operates over 15,000 stores, will pay hourly employees who choose to be inoculated or give salaried employees paid time off to get the injection.
Because of the lack of available vaccines, a requirement isn’t practical, but that might change in the future.
“As the vaccine starts rolling out more and more and as there will be people in their 30s, 40s and 50s taking it, you may very well see that issue between an employer and employee,” says Roth.